Who doesn't love an underdog sports story? That's especially true when it's one as diverting and big-hearted as "Eddie the Eagle," the ebullient tale of Britain's wildly unlikely, first-ever Winter Olympics ski jumper, Michael "Eddie" Edwards. Prepare to be amused, moved and inspired.
It's 1973 when we first meet Eddie (played as a boy by Tom Costello and Jack Costello, as an adult by Taron Egerton), an earnest, optimistic kid with thick eyeglasses, "dodgy legs" and an Olympics obsession. In a nutshell, he wants to be a contender at the Big Show, whatever the sport. The problem is, young Eddie has no athletic ability whatsoever, something his grumpy, plasterer dad (Keith Allen) bluntly reminds him.
But Eddie is indefatigable if slightly obtuse and, once his leg braces are removed — in a joyously rendered scene — he zeros in on downhill skiing. Years pass, practice makes far from perfect and Eddie, now in his early 20s, is unceremoniously cut from the British Olympic ski team.
Against his father's protests but with his quietly devoted mum's (Jo Hartley, terrific) support, Eddie makes his way to snowy Germany to tackle ski jumping. His goal is as physically illogical as it is compelling — and frightening.
On the upside, Britain has no ski jumping team. So even at Eddie's worst, he could theoretically qualify as his nation's sole competitor at the 1987 World Championships, which could in turn lead the tyro athlete to the 1988 Winter Olympics in Calgary, Canada. If the film wasn't loosely based on a true story, you'd be calling baloney at this point.
Once in Germany, Eddie wipes out as a prospective ski jumper. True to form, he hangs in there and, with the reluctant help of Bronson Peary (Hugh Jackman), a former ski great turned snowplow driver and bitter boozer, Eddie learns to navigate his chosen sport and those sky-high takeoff ramps. Cue the jaunty, pop-tuned and thoroughly fun training montages. (Jackman's sexy-limber physicality is on delightful display here.)
Credible obstacles ensue as Eddie does, in fact, make his way to the Calgary Games and, in his own upbeat, idiosyncratic way, conquers ski jumping, becomes a media darling and is dubbed "Eddie the Eagle" after gleefully flapping his arms for the crowds. Some of Eddie's many naysayers and competitors, including an enigmatic young Finnish skier (Edvin Endre), eventually come around.
Director Dexter Fletcher ("Sunshine on Leith") keeps things enjoyably hurtling forward, even when the otherwise engaging script by Sean Macaulay and Simon Kelton overworks a cliché, shorthands certain practical and financial matters, or proves a bit one-note, as it does in its portrayal of England's snobby, disdainful Olympic committee.
Meanwhile, cinematographer George Richmond brings the audience into the terrifyingly fast-and-furious — and some might say insane — ski-jump experience with heart-pounding efficacy.
Egerton is winning and utterly root-worthy as the plucky Eddie, a kind of man-child in a promised land. Jackman offers a deft dose of star power as the rueful, hardened Bronson, a part that's both larger than life and somewhat underwritten (and, it should be noted, a fictional concoction). Christopher Walken feels miscast as Bronson's legendary former ski coach, but the great Jim Broadbent is a hoot as an Olympic commentator.
'Eddie the Eagle'
MPAA rating: PG-13, for some suggestive material, partial nudity and smoking
Running time: 1 hour, 45 minutes